For my day job, I get to teach social communication skills to students with high functioning autism at a public highschool. The students in my classes all have an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) for their educational disability label of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). My social communication skills classes are an elective class that goes towards their Michigan Merit Curriculum credits. We work on so many different skills throughout the year depending on the needs and strengths/challenges of the students in the class.
Ultimately, I believe that underneath all these skills the underlying theme is self-determination. Self-determination includes being self-aware which includes being able to fully understand one's strengths and challenges, accepting these challenges and finding ways to overcome them, acceptance of being a person on the autism spectrum, how they fit within their community, recognizing the importance of creating and maintaining relationships, and feeling confident to self-advocate in all environments.
I say the word autism multiple times an hour every single day: "teens with autism", "those with autism like yourself", etc. I start the year off with a unit on what ASD is and I have the students dissect their I.E.P.'s so they know why they are in the class and what they are working on. I have yet to come across a teen who has a firm grasp on what autism is and how to explain to others how autism affects them, let alone what their I.E.P. goals are.
My students are incrediably lucky to be able to live in a district that recognizes that autism spectrum disorder is a social communication and behavior disorder first which then impacts a student's academic learning. If we only focus on the curriculum and test achievement we will continue to graduate students from high school with a diploma but no employability skills.
As I get more involved in branching out and offering social skills training for those who need additional or more individualized help I am realizing how many young people with autism are not self-aware and families who are in desperate need of help with discussing their child's diagnosis of ASD with them and helping them with accepting it. Here at Totally Social, I am looking forward to having a broader arena for helping young adults with autism learn social skills that will lead them to connect with others, but ultimately, I aim to help lead self-determined young adults with autism who will graduate from highschool able to advocate for their needs.
Written by: Sabra Evans